Forty Years After the Revolution, Iranian-American Artists Look Back

Led by visual artist Minoosh Zomorodinia, S.F. galleries engage the Iranian-American diaspora.

Minoosh Zomorodinia, Sensation video still. Courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission

In her video series, Sensation, Minoosh Zomorodinia sets up a camera in various windswept terrains and walks in front of it. Then she wraps her entire body, including her face, in a shiny emergency blanket and waits for the wind to push her. Zomorodinia pushes back. Simply by standing there and resisting — even as the wind rips off some of the blanket’s material — Zomorodinia becomes a kind of covered-up, sculptural combatant. The work is funny in the same way that Buster Keaton’s and Charlie Chaplin’s physical comedy is funny. But some art-goers may view Sensation as a subtle political work, especially since it’s included in a new San Francisco exhibit, “Part and Parcel” at the San Francisco Arts Commission main gallery, that examines the 40th anniversary of Iran’s religious revolution.

Zomorodinia, who was born and raised in Iran and now lives in Albany, filmed the work for Sensation in several Bay Area locations and also at Taleghan Mountain, a snowy peak north of Tehran. She filmed the scenes before she knew her work would appear in “Part and Parcel,” and her work at the San Francisco Art Commission gallery is — for the first time — in two channels.

“I don’t make art for political reasons, and I never consider myself a political artist … and I never made this piece with an attempt to be political,” Zomorodinia tells SF Weekly. “Part of my work is actually funny. I make this art intentional because I’m using this idea of using a tiny bit of movement and action. But it’s humorous.”

Sensation III 2016 from Minoosh Zomorodinia on Vimeo.

The exhibit’s three other featured artists — Tannaz Farsi, Gelare Khoshgozaran, and Sahar Khoury — are also West Coast Iranian-American figures. Farsi, who lives and works in Eugene, Ore., will be at the gallery on Saturday, March 9, 1-3 p.m, to read from The Names, her art project that unites the names of important Iranian women.

Curated by celebrated San Francisco artist Taraneh Hemami, the last day of “Part and Parcel” (March 30) segues into “Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora,” a major exhibit at Minnesota Street Project that Hemami and Kevin B. Chen co-curated. Hemami, Farsi, Khoshgozaran and other prominent figures are also participating in a March 30 panel (1-2:30 p.m.) at San Francisco State, “Contemporary Practices: Visual Artists of the Iranian Diaspora,” that’s part of a wider two-day academic conference at the university.

As part of “Part and Parcel” last month, Zomorodinia led a group of people — some of them wearing the same type of emergency blanket she wears in her Sensation series — along streets near San Francisco City Hall in an event that emphasized body movement and ideas around belonging. When she has filmed Sensation, Zomorodinia is usually by herself. She prefers it that way so she can be more herself, without the influence of onlookers. The compilations in “Part and Parcel” are minutes long, but Zomorodinia will make hours of footage to get the right moments for her exhibited work. Staying as still as possible is part of what Zomorodinia says is performance art.

“I improvise, but mostly what I try to capture is a performance that doesn’t need any edits,” says Zomorodinia, who earned her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, where she decided that performance art would be a specialty. “It’s so hard to be a live performer because I always have this feeling that I’m not immersed in a community. In that school, I don’t think they had seen Muslim people in art, so I said, ‘I’m going to use my body.’ I had a lot of struggles to show myself. But I thought it was important for me to react to what I feel around myself as an artist. I wanted to be an environmental artist, but I didn’t want to create a lot of objects.”

So Zomorodinia turned herself into one for the work that is Sensation.

“Part and Parcel,” through March 30 at the San Francisco Arts Commission main gallery, 401 Van Ness Ave. Free; 415-252-2255 or sfartscommission.org

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